Unsettled Landscapes challenges the romanticized notion of landscapes as harmonious and serene, asking viewers to instead consider the tensions that simmer particularly in representations of the American West. The exhibition asks how artists convey these tensions and how their approaches vary, sometimes quite literally within a singular image that contrasts natural beauty with oppressive human forces. More collectively, this tension reveals itself both formally and conceptually when works are put in conversation with one another, as they are in this exhibition.
A scenic desert landscape filled with blooming cactuses opens Unsettled Landscapes. This relatively placid scene is set against a background of the High Desert State Prison in Standish, California. In this work, Los Angeles–based artist Sandow Birk draws on formal qualities reminiscent of 19th-century landscape paintings of the American West but demonstrates how form and content can—and do—diverge. More abstracted landscapes follow in the exhibition, communicating themes of uneasiness, restlessness, and isolation as well as exploring such opposing motifs as motion and stagnation, desert and sea, and natural and man-made.
Unsettled Landscapes draws on works from the collection of the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, focusing primarily on lithographs and linocuts. It includes works from modern and contemporary artists Joe Andoe, Sandow Birk, Llyn Foulkes, Joe Goode, Stephen de Hospodar, and Gerald Laing, among others.